Shhhh! Be very quiet, I’m tracking Sage Grouse.

While doing field work in Florida over the winter months, I came to the realization that I missed Utah. I missed the red rock, the deep smell of sage, the fact that I can see for miles, the calves prancing about and the people at the BLM office. This will be my second season as a CBG wildlife intern for the BLM in Cedar City, UT.

My journey back to South West Utah began in April, in a bright teal Subaru stuffed full of my belongings with a black dog riding shotty. The 2,988 mile road trip out here taught me a lot about “flying by the seat of my pants” and adapting to new situations. My stops included country dancing in Nashville, TN, green chili in Santa Fe, NM, hiking in Vail, CO, and skiing at Brighton Resort in Utah. I had some minor setbacks along the way. For example, I had not planned on repairing both my front axles. Nor had I anticipated how sore my buttock would be after driving for 10 hours. All in all, I made it to Cedar City, UT with a more rounded view of the United States of America.

My fellow intern, Brittany Stanglewicz, and I have started our field season by tracking collared Greater Sage Grouse using radio telemetry. Each collared grouse is wearing a necklace like transmitter, which emits a signal at a certain frequency. By dialing the receiver to the given frequencies, we can hear the signal and determine the direction the grouse is located in.

Our mornings begin by packing our Chevy Tahoe full of equipment. The essentials include: 2 receivers, 2 antennas, 2 co axle cords, 1 GPS, 1 camera, several maps, a hand held radio, a list of the frequencies and lots of food and water. After navigating from the office to one of the lek sites (an area where certain male animals perform their courtship displays) we attach the co axle cord to the antenna and to the receiver. Next, we dial to one of the frequencies listed for one of the collared Sage Grouse and listen for a beeping noise while we slowly move in a circle holding the antenna pointing away from us. On a good day, we hear a signal and then track the grouse down and flush it out of the sage brush, take pictures, and record data using a GPS.
5 Greater Sage Grouse took off into flight after we tracked them using radio telemetry

<—- 5 Greater Sage Grouse took off into flight after we tracked them using radio telemetry

On a not-so-good day, we won’t hear any signals and then we drive or hike to higher spots in hopes of hearing a signal. If the collar is in a stationary spot for over 8 hours then it will turn to a “mortality signal”, which means the beep occur at a faster rate. We have found one dead collared grouse. Once we arrived at the scene of the crime, we found a severed grouse head with a collar close by. There was also many grouse feathers scattered about. Based on the evidence, such as broken feathers, we were able to determine the cause of death to be a mammal (chances are pretty high it was a coyote).This Greater Sage Grouse was a victim of mammalian predation

Besides tracking the Greater Sage Grouse around Southern Utah, our season will include bird banding, Utah prairie dog capture, Greater Sage Grouse habitat assessment, riparian exclosure maintenance, wildlife clearances and much more.

A Greater Sage Grouse that was a victim of mammalian predation —->

Over and Out,

Michelle Downey
Cedar City, UT

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.